Most of us are always on the look out to improve the way in which we deliver learning programmes, thereby improving student experience. The intention of this blog and associated twitterchat on 28th February 8pm GMT is to consider how another industry can provoke a rethink in how academics deliver programmes in HE. There’s inspiration everywhere and as the above title suggests, the recently aired programme about IKEA- #FlatpackEmpire made me consider what a programme leader could learn from another industry to improve student experience.
There is a danger of dominating the chat with a discussion about the rights and wrongs of applying the consumer/ customer label to students…so just for now let’s leave that by the door whilst we hold a mirror (or indeed a MONGSTAD- see IKEA catalogue) up to academia.
Here’s a few things that appear to be at the forefront of IKEA’s modus operandi but could prove worthy of consideration by a programme leader.
Creating sense of belonging- customers are welcomed as part of a family, with diversity embraced. How can this inclusive outlook be nurtured within or even between cohorts? This becomes increasingly important when learners are dispersed across different campuses, off campus or enrolled on programmes with various routes through.
The shared experience of walking through the rooms as if it is your own house- generating an aspirational yet familiar feeling. Do students feel the appropriate level of aspiration on their programme or all too often feel the effects of imposter syndrome?
Choice and advice. You can either follow those arrows or meander through the rooms. How can students navigate their way through the programme and capitalise on their current skills set whilst experiencing challenge?
With the three examples above there is a tension between providing a personalised experience and striving for equality of experience where practice is standardised. Hopping over to another industry for help…..
In healthcare, particularly in the realms of patient safety, there is a mantra of standardisation being the safest and most effective way to care (an approach pinched from other industries such as nuclear energy and aviation). Standardised care means that every patient receives the right care at the right time regardless of whether that patient is seen on a Wednesday morning by one clinician or by another clinician at 11pm on a Saturday. The work to improve the safety of patients in the UK is focussing heavily on standardising the system in which the care is delivered. The belief is that by standardising the system and minimizing the variation in practices, errors can be eliminated and efficiency increased. So here’s another opportunity to challenge our academic delivery and experience of our learning programmes. How much variation exists in the programmes you run- for example, do all students on the programme experience the enrolment in the same way? Is there variation in the way different faculty members work with students? Is the variation unwarranted, how can you justify it? How does variation affect learning experience and learning achievements? What could you do to reduce the variation and what practices would you standardise? Of course the fear is that standardising practice means making it vanilla and impeding innovation. How can flair, creativity and pushing the limits be welcomed in the context of standardisation?
Perhaps a more discursive approach to standardisation could be borrowed from the work in healthcare of “Never events”. Although relating to significant failures in care, what is important is the clear and shared understanding of practices/ outcomes that must not occur. A more positive take was developed by the Picker Institute. They considered Always events as “those aspects of the patient experience that are so important to patients and families that health care providers must aim to perform them consistently and reliably for every patient, every time.” Think how rich we would be if we fully understood and protected the “always events” of our programmes.
We are looking forward to hearing your ideas on standardisation and variation from your academic experience. We will also be inviting you to share your sources of inspiration (outside of education) that have provided ideas for improvement, including IKEA! Join in the #HEAchat #LTHEchat discussion on 28th February 8pm GMT
For more information on HEA Twitter chats please click here.
 Or even the horrors of walking around IKEA on a Bank Holiday!